Unity is what you make of it

RECENTLY, after much deliberation, I finished reading Ken Mogi’s 2017 bestseller, “The Little Book of Ikigai”, in one sitting. It is truly a “little” book, with only 208 pages. Yet, it took me almost 6 years (and a pandemic!) to finally finish it. 

Nevertheless, its insights have prompted me to reflect on life’s intricacies, particularly in applying the concept of ikigai into our daily lives. For the benefit of fellow tsundoku (a phenomenon of acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them) sufferers, Mogi’s book defined ikigai as having five pillars:

  • Personal Nature of ikigai: Ikigai isn’t a universal concept; it’s deeply personal, varying from one individual to another. 
  • Harmony and Balance: Ikigai involves seeking balance across life’s facets — work, relationships, hobbies and health, fostering a fulfilling existence. 
  • Passion and Mission: At its core, ikigai thrives at the intersection of one’s passion and the world’s needs, necessitating the identification of personal interests that benefit society. 
  • Daily Joy: Ikigai emphasises finding contentment and significance in everyday tasks, whether it’s relishing a cup of tea, pursuing a beloved hobby, or cherishing moments with loved ones. 
  • Lifelong Journey: The pursuit of ikigai is an ongoing process, an ever-evolving journey rather than a finite destination. 

What struck me most was the absence of a universal ikigai definition. It is something you shape, an internal construct. While the steps seem straightforward, implementing them fully often proves challenging. 

Perhaps, just perhaps, the profound concept of ikigai can offer us invaluable insights into attaining the seemingly elusive trait we yearn for in our multi-ethnic country — unity. 

Unity has remained a persistent topic of discussion across all parts of our society. Yet, it often feels like a distant horizon, a goal that remains just out of reach. The echo goes on and on: that we are still not united as a nation. 

Some point to the colonial legacy that left us with divisive laws, segregating us geographically based on ethnicity, purportedly in the interest of maintaining peace. Some point to the unfair policies that favour specific ethnicities, as opposed to basing them solely on merits. 

Even with different governments, each still call for greater unity, accompanied by slogans and campaigns designed to remind us of our lack thereof. Even our National Day and Malaysia Day celebrations this year have the word perpaduan in it. 

Yet, the question persists: How do we actually bridge these divides and achieve the unity we’ve sought for so long? 

Perhaps, the answer lies within each of us, much like the essence of ikigai. Unity, just like ikigai, is not a standardised, one-size-fits-all notion but a deeply personal and individualised concept. It is a journey of self-discovery and action. 

True unity can be found in the commitment to do one’s best in every endeavour. It can manifest as the simple act of sharing a morning meal of nasi lemak (or chee cheong fun) with a glass of teh tarik. If you perceive it as unity, then it is your unity. In the same vein, other simple things like being proud of our athlete’s achievements in sports tournament, no matter what the medal colour, is also unity. 

No one should impose their definition of unity upon you, for unity, much like ikigai, is a deeply personal and subjective experience. It’s not confined to a single, rigid path, but rather a tapestry of diverse experiences and perspectives. By embracing and defining your unique concept of unity, you have the power to infuse it into every facet of your life.

Unity, like ikigai, is not an abstract 

ideal reserved for grand government initiatives or catchy slogans. It’s something tangible that we can shape individually and collectively. It’s a reflection of our daily choices and actions. Embrace it, define it and let it permeate your daily existence.In doing so, unity becomes a tangible reality that we collectively create, one day at a time, one shared experience at a time.

Happy Malaysia Day, everyone. 

  • Assoc Prof Ir Dr Nahrizul Adib Kadri is an associate professor at the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universiti Malaya. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition